The British working-class intellectual, Thomas Alfred Jackson, was born in Clerkenwell, London, in 1879.
Tommy Jackson – always TA to the world – he is remembered as the working-class autodidact. As a young man, he read classics works mainly since contemporary literature was too expensive. (A survey found that while 55 percent of working-class adults read books, they rarely bought new books.) He built up an impressive library by haunting used-book stalls and generally scavenging. His obsession with books led him to rather neglect his attire and appearance!
Devoted as a young boy to Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, Jackson later realised that Scott "was a shocking old Tory, and a reactionary," but he insisted that one could read Ivanhoe as a critique of capitalism, with "The gallantry and efficiency of Robin Hood, and his outlaws, the sturdy courage of the Saxons…”
He was moved to radicalism by boyhood admiration for the Irish home-ruler, Parnell and developed into Second International Marxism out of opposition to the British aggression against the Boers. Jackson, early in life, declared himself Marxist Socialist. Reading secular material as a youth, he was profoundly influenced by the writings of Charles Darwin, Robert Blatchford and T H Huxley, leading to his gradual abandonment of mainstream politics and Christianity.
He joined a study group connected with the Social Democratic Federation, studying history, economics, science, and political theory. In his autobiography, Jackson jumped wholeheartedly into debates concerning evolutionary socialism and scientific socialism, lecturing and writing on natural science and economics as part of a Marxist explanation for human existence.
Certainly by 1900, Jackson was a member of the SDF. But he was also one of the founders in 1904 of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, a still extant but always tiny body of Marxists believing in a long educational route to socialism. Tommy Jackson is named in the Minutes of the SPGB’s Inaugural Meeting held at Printers' Hall, Bartletts Passage, Fetter Lane, London, E.C. at 6pm on Sunday 12th June 1904 and was at its First Annual Conference, 20 April 1905, Communist Club, 107 Charlotte St, London. He held some capacity not exactly as the secretary of the SPGB but certainly in an acting capacity in this period. (He married another founder member, a “Miss K. Hawkins” and one of their two daughters, Stella, was herself later briefly a member of the SPGB.)
TA Jackson was in despair at “an almost total failure to agree as to what `Socialism’ meant in terms of concrete, specific, political practice’. Whatever this may have meant, he was certainly a very active member of the SPGB for nearly five years, being on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Principles, speaking outdoors and indoors, writing articles, and serving on the executive committee. These activities resulted in him having difficulty in finding a job in his trade and, in 1909, as he openly admitted that he had decided to sell his speaking abilities to other propagandist groups in order to survive. He thus ended up joining the ILP. When he moved to Leeds he got a job speaking for the Secularists. Later he was a freelance speaker, depending on his audience putting money in his hat.
During the First World War he was able to find employment as a storeman. By its end he had joined the SLP and it was as a member of its pro-Bolshevik wing, which was one of the constituent organisations that set up the British Communist Party that he became a founder of that party. For the rest of his life he was a paid writer and journalist for the Communist Party, the Sunday Worker and then the Daily Worker.
In the 1920s he was in fact one of the leading figures in the Communist Party, editing its first weekly journal, The Communist, and a member of its central committee and executive committee. In 1929, he was one of the EC members removed by congress as `rightists’. He remained a Communist Party member throughout, but latterly was known only as a journalist and writer. As such he wrote numerous articles and a number of books, such as Dialectics (1936) – subtitled “The logic of Marxism, and its critics: an essay in exploration”.
An important part of the Salford based Working Class Movement Library is the T.A. Jackson Irish Collection, which contains some seven hundred volumes on Irish history, among them notable early works such as 'Wakefield's Survey of Ireland’. Jackson's own rather famous book, `Ireland – Her Own’, was published in 1946. It has since been credited with winning many Irish republicans to left ideas.
Although he had no Irish ancestors, he was from well before the Easter uprising a tireless promoter of Irish freedom. After meeting James Connolly on a tour of England, Jackson was won to the cause. Afterwards he was closely associated with Con Lehane, who had at one point been one of Connolly's closest comrades. It was Lehane who suggested that Jackson write a Marxist history of Ireland. That book became "Ireland Her Own," and is dedicated to Lehane.
Right: Jackson in 1905
Amongst his writings are:
Solo Trumpet (autobiography – 1953)
`Charles Dickens: Progress of a Radical’ (late 1930s)
`Sounding the Trumpet: on Darwin, Marx, and Human Existence’
Jackson wrote many Communist Party pamphlets, including:
The British Empire (1922)
`The jubilee – and how’ (1935)
`What is the British Empire to you?’ [n.d.]
`Socialism : what? why? how?’ (1945)
Jackson’s daughter married A L Morton, the celebrated Communist Party historian. TA Jackson died in 1955 and the Communist Party honoured the centenary of Jackson's birth in 1979. He had died in 1955.
Sources: John Callaghan, `Socialism in Britain’, Basil Blackwell (1990), pp27-29; Socialist Standard centenary issue (September 2004); information from Adam Buick